User Fee Budget Language Draws Protests
July 31, 2009
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  • Kerry Lynch

    March 2, 2009

    A footnote buried deep within the Obama administration’s fiscal 2010 budget calls for replacement of “some aviation taxes with direct user charges” beginning in 2011. The budget did not provide specifics, but the charges would appear to raise about $7 billion, the same amount sought by the Bush administration user fee proposal.

    “It is often said the devil is in the details, but even with only a few details, there is much about which we are concerned,” said Craig L. Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “We have been working constructively with the Obama administration and Congress about moving forward with air traffic control modernization and airport development. However, the warning light went on with the budget briefing documents and the plan for imposing billions in user fees on the aviation community.”

    National Business Aviation Association called the budget item troubling. “We continue to believe that operational user fees have no place in a funding plan for the FAA, and we will remain unified with the rest of the general aviation community in opposing them,” the association said in a statement.

    The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also weighed in after the release of the budget documents, stating opposition to changes in aviation funding. “Aviation user fees have been proposed several times in the past by OMBs of various administrations, and have not been adopted by Congress,” said T&I Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.). “I believe the current system of aviation excise taxes has proven to be a stable and efficient source of funding for our aviation system.”

    Those sentiments were echoed by National Air Transportation Association President James Coyne. “While the Bush administration proposed a similar user fee, NATA is hopeful that Congress will reject the proposal as they’ve done previously,” he said. “I agree with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar.”

    The Air Transport Association, which in the past had advocated either user fees or some other overhaul of the FAA financing system to shift more of the costs onto business jet operators, last week was hesitant to comment without first seeing the details. But ATA did come out in opposition to another measure in the budget that would increase passenger security fees to cover the majority of the estimated costs of passenger and baggage screening. ATA reiterated its belief that aviation security is a government responsibility.

    The budget’s details may not be released until April, said Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, who called its release last week just “an overview” since the new administration has had only six weeks to work on its proposal. The administration plans to continually review the budget, Orszag added. “There is more to come over time as we continue to examine what works and what doesn’t.”

    But the inclusion of the user fees could threaten the united front that business aviation and airline groups presented during last month’s hearing on comprehensive FAA reauthorization (BA, Feb. 16/69). The groups pledged to work together to accomplish the goals toward modernization, and ATA President and CEO James May said, “We know that continuing to play the blame game is not going to get us very far.” Business aviation leaders have contended that the industry is facing too many critical issues to engage in another contentious battle over user fees.

    Date: 2009-03-02